Economists, social experts, journalists, and NGO representatives called to coordinate efforts between various governmental and non-governmental bodies to mitigate the adverse effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on both economic and social sectors.
This came during a workshop organized by the Palestinian Network of NGOs (PNGO) entitled, “Corona pandemic negative repercussions on the economic and social protection in Gaza Strip” which was implanted in partnership with Friedrich Ebert Foundation, where they called for the necessity of launching a program to protect the poor with the aim of providing protection, care and social safety, providing assistance to the poorest families and marginalized groups in society, leading to the development of a social safety net.
Dr. Maher Al-Tabba’, media and public relations officer at the Gaza Chamber of Commerce, presented a paper in which he discussed the implications of Coronavirus on the above-mentioned sectors.
The sector of tourism has stopped working completely, Al-Tabba’ said, which makes it one of the most negatively affected sectors. The number of workers in tourism-related jobs is around 8,700 workers.
The transportation sector, Al-Tabba’ explained, is also damaged since 80% of its capacity is ceased. This is mainly due to the virtual educational shift and the lack of citizens’ movement within the sector. It is estimated that more than 3,000 workers were massively affected by such horrid reality.
He pointed out that 10,000 workers in the construction, paper, engineering, metallurgical, wood, and aluminum sectors lost their jobs too because of the pandemic. Contracting companies have suspended their activities, with the exception of emergency projects, which led to the disruption of about 200 contracting companies and about 10,000 workers. In the private education and kindergarten sectors, 700 kindergartens, 53 private schools, and 365 private education centers were closed, resulting in more than 5,000 workers in this sector being badly influenced, Al-Tabba’ claimed.
Moreover, Al-Tabba’ stated that various commercial sectors witnessed a noticeable decline, as their productive capacity decreased by 60 to 70%, due to the lack of purchasing power as well as the leaning of purchasing needs towards food, cleaning and protection materials, and medical supplies.
The economic halt resulted in the disruption of more than 45,000 workers, in addition to the heavy losses incurred by establishment owners reaching the agricultural sector, too, he added.
According to the World Bank, the Palestinian economy, which witnessed a growth rate of only 1% in 2019, will shrink by at least 7.6% during the year 2020, and deflation will be further strengthened than expected by the World Bank report as a result of the return of the tax revenues clearing crisis between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli occupation, Al-Tabba’ commented.
Furthermore, Al-Tabba’ mentioned that by the national definition of poverty, the poverty rate in the Gaza Strip reached 53% and the extreme poverty rate hit 33.8% as the latest official statistics issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics unfolded.
The family unit poverty line in Gaza amounted to 2470 shekels while abject poverty line is 1974 shekels. In the same context, the World Bank expected the number of poor families to rise to 64% at the time when food insecurity among families reached 68%, which is about 1.3 million people, and dependence on food aid peaked at 80% of the population.
Al-Tabba’ considered that the local and international interventions aimed at ease the crisis caused by the Coronavirus were very limited and had no development. Waqft Ezz Fund, which was established in the West Bank to face the pandemic, stood as a prominent example of attempts failing to achieve their purpose. The absence of an official database regarding the affected citizens and the formation of a board of directors of 30 persons, mostly from the West Bank were also mentioned on the fruitless effort list.
Al-Tabba’ recommended that the Palestinian unity should be regained by ending the current political division and achieving national reconciliation, and seeking the help of all experiences and energies. Supporting entrepreneurship in the information technology sector and remote work projects and distance education is a must.
For his part, Saeed Abu Ghazzeh, a researcher, talked in his paper about the negative repercussions of the pandemic on social protection in which the number of poor people has increased, especially as daily workers and small business owners, due to the lack of protection policies for them.
The social protection system does not cover all the poor and marginalized areas with all its components, Abu Ghazzeh stressed. The existing lack of medical services such as trained medical staffs and equipment and the weak food security systems are worsening the situation alongside with the fragile local economy, the shortage of effective policies that protect workers, and the absence of a guaranteed basic income that is not covered by the special protection program, such as daily-paid workers and elderly in all sectors.
The long list of harmful effects caused by the pandemic continues to add the inability to cover all the poor and marginalized over social services in the health and food security field, high rates of family violence and clear gender discrimination, and the inability of the poor and work to meet obligations and debts, which made them vulnerable to legal prosecution.
Abu Ghazzeh recommended adopting a social security law, avoiding social protection policies, political interactions, improving the health system in terms of staff and medical equipment, and creating a unified database for all workers in the social services sector to avoid duplication.
Also, he suggested strengthening the coordination and complementary work between social service providers to ensure reaching the largest segment of those targeted to ensure a decent life for them. Building a comprehensive integrated social protection system based on investment in the target group, and setting policies that protect daily workers proves to be necessary to stop the exploitation of employers.
Adding to that, he called for developing a programmatic system for crisis management and a readiness status to deal with emergency situations, such as the Coronavirus pandemic, and drawing long-term and sustainable national social protection plans, and a strategy that clarifies the roles of the various stakeholders involved in the emergency response.
Improving social protection targeting mechanisms, improving the scope of comprehensive coverage of regions, targeting groups to reduce mistakes and errors, and supporting social protection system policies in the private economic sector were steps found vital by Abu Ghazzeh to better handle and even solve the problems at hand.
Amjad Al-Shawa, PNGO director, opened the workshop attended by tens of officials, NGO activists and journalists by saying that civil society organizations are still reaching out to partner with the government, the private sector and others to confront the pandemic and other challenges facing the Palestinian people.
This international pandemic, he proceeded, worsened the suffering of marginalized and poor groups, especially persons with disabilities, women and children, and workers. Young people were left jobless and penniless as well.
Al-Shawa demonstrated that there are still no clear procedures or instructions regarding the educational process, even though the schools are expected to open their doors in a few weeks.
In turn, Dr. Osama Antar, Friedrich Ebert Gaza programs director, said that the nine research papers done with PNGO, including the two papers discussed during the workshop, were very appropriate examples of the joint work during the pandemic period.
Antar added that the pandemic struck various aspects of life in Palestine, and demanded the existence of law for social security and protection, stressing that if the law was established during the pandemic period, there would be better protection for different groups, especially the vulnerable ones.